Two Critical Factors to Natural Muscle Gain That You’re Currently Ignoring

Posted July 6, 2015 by

“I work out hard all the time and I just don’t grow!” Sound familiar? How about, “No matter how much I eat, I can’t gain weight!” or, “My bench has been stuck at __ lbs forever and I just can’t get stronger!”—any of those sound like something you’ve heard recently, or perhaps even said yourself?

Every day, thousands of hopeful hardgainers travel to their local gyms, diligently work through the latest muscle magazine or bodybuilding.com workout program, and summarily fail to achieve any of the incredible results promised by these programs despite their best and continued effort.

While some maintain a headstrong attitude in the face of continued failure for years, most eventually burn out and give up. And who can blame them? Nothing is less motivating than working excruciatingly hard at something, only to see literally nothing for your hard work.

The reason I am so familiar with this feeling is because I went through the same thing myself as a young adult. Throughout high school and early college, I was a scrawny, muscleless weakling and was treated as such by everyone around me.

I could tell that people regarded me in a different way than those who had a bigger physical presence than me—even though it was subconscious on their part, I still noticed it and it bugged me. I wanted to be treated seriously, with respect… and I knew that my small size was standing in the way.

My personal transformation over the past 12 years.

My personal transformation over the past 12 years.

I know that those of you who are in the same boat understand what I am saying here. Others might scoff and think this is silly and makes no sense, but since they haven’t gone through it, they don’t understand. Nevermind all that, what’s important is that I DO understand this, and better yet, I figured out how to make my fitness and nutrition program work for ME. Here’s a hint: it IS NOT the way that is repeated, over and over again, in the muscle magazines.

If you’re doing body part split workouts (chest day, arm day, shoulder day, etc), squatting one day a week (or not at all), performing 20-plus sets per workout, spending hours in the gym, or not logging your food and optimizing your macros, quite simply, you’re doing it wrong. No if’s, and’s or but’s about it.

I don’t care what other people claim is the secret; the bottom line is that the workout program for a hardgainer is different than for someone more genetically predisposed to gaining weight/muscle, and your nutrition MUST be on point in order to predictably grow. Let’s dig into it:

Hard-Gainer Mass-Building Factor #1: Reduce the Volume, Up the Intensity

Body part split workouts are absolutely garbage for novice hard-gainers. Too much volume combined with too little relative weight (you can’t lift close to your maximum strength if you’re performing 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps) results in a lack of proper stimulus to the body. Why is this?

With weight training, we want to focus on our weak point and bring that up to prevent a bottle neck along the way to our goal. Hard-gainers by and large have a lack of absolute strength. There isn’t some 6’3″ 150 lb guy out there somewhere who’s squatting 405 for reps, I can tell you that right now.

No, typically a lack of muscle size (particularly when compared to body height) comes hand in hand with a lack of muscle strength. And consequently, focusing on gaining strength first and foremost is the most effective means to increasing the overall mass of the body.

What’s the best way to get strong at a given lift? A. lift as much weight as you can in the lift on a regular basis, increasing that weight over time, and B. repeat the lift frequently to groove the moment pattern and give yourself plenty of opportunity to improve your numbers.

Given that, do you think a body part split where you’re only hitting a given movement one time per week, blasting it with high repetitions till you’re so exhausted you’re barely using any weight at all is the best way to improve your muscle mass? Ahhhmmm, no.

Here’s what to do: 3 total body workouts per week. Squat every single workout. Yep, you heard me. Improving your squat numbers is one of the best things you can do for your physique as a hard-gainer. A couple of good programs to check out to get started are StrongLifts 5×5 routine and the Starting Strength routine. Our StrengthCAMP program is also designed from the ground-up to help hard-gainers put on size and strength in as short of a time as possible.

Coach Connor's 3-year personal transformation from skinny-fat hard-gainer to ripped-to-shreds muscle beast.

Coach Connor’s 3-year personal transformation from skinny-fat hard-gainer to ripped-to-shreds muscle beast.

Hard-Gainer Mass-Building Factor #2: Eat More, Consistently, and of the Right Proportions

Working out is only one part of the equation. At the end of the day, weight gain occurs when you eat more than you burn. If you don’t do that as a bare minimum, you’re not going to gain any weight, muscle or otherwise.

Again, forget all the false promises from the supplement industry about packing on 30 lbs in 2 weeks thanks to the latest pill… it doesn’t work like that. Outside of heavy steroid use, you’re not going to put on consistent weight without knowing how many calories you’re taking in on a regular basis.

Up to this point, you haven’t put on weight for one reason, and that’s because you have not been eating enough… PERIOD! “But I’ve been stuffing my face!” you insist. Well, then you need to stuff your face even more! (Our gut-busting, uber-tasty hard-gainer recipes over at the Ballinger Athletic Performance blog would be a great place to start for that).

But look, outside of just basic calories being high enough… the goal here is to gain MUSCLE, not fat, correct? That’s where macros come into play. While calories determine if you gain or lose weight in general, the macro breakdown of those calories (combined with the effectiveness of the training program you’re using) determine what that weight is composed of–muscle or fat.

Here’s what to do: track your calories. If you’re not gaining weight, you need to eat more, period. In some cases that could be 20 x body weight (lbs) in calories, or even higher. Once you’re gaining weight, ensure that you’re eating a proper amount of protein, enough fats to support your hormones, and then the rest as carbohydrates to provide energy for maximum intensity in the gym. A good place to start is the MyFitnessPal app that has a built in macro/calorie estimation tool, or if you want truly customized numbers that are ideal for you individually, hiring a knowledgable nutrition coach will help to keep you progressing towards your ultimate goals.

Need professional assistance with implementing the methods above? Come give our Transformation Training program a try for a whole week! Click Here

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